Tag Archives: lora brovold

Christmas pleasures

It’s almost Epiphany, time for me to throw out the leftover turkey, finish the chocolate and mince tarts, unplug the tree, and get back to rehearsing and watching theatre.

But first, I want to tell you about two Christmas-ish theatre productions.  This year I didn’t see Christmas Carol, Best Little Newfoundland Christmas Pageant, or Nutcracker Suite.  You probably already know what they’re like, though.

The panto is a Christmas tradition in England and other parts of the UK, and Capitol Theatre at Fort Edmonton Park has been presenting a pantomime around Christmas for five years now.  It’s one of the few theatre productions in town that has a performances on Christmas Eve (a matinee) and between Boxing Day and New Year’s Eve, so I always like going to it while the rest of my schedule is on pause.

This year’s production of Red Riding Hood was written and directed by Dana Anderson, and featured Madelaine Knight (as Red), Jeff Halaby (as Red’s mother and grandma as well as some other characters), Aaron Macri (on-stage DJ), Melissa MacPherson in various roles, and Davina Stewart as a wonderful Big Bad Wolf villain.  It was lots of fun, with clever topical humour (the beach-boy from Accidental Beach especially) and enthusiastic audiences.

The other play I saw before Christmas was about Christmas traditions, about an engaged couple first discovering their mismatched preferences and trying to figure out how to be happy and together despite them.  Conni Massing was the writer of Oh! Christmas Tree and Brian Deedrick directed the co-production by Blunt Entertainment and Theatre of the New Heart.  Lora Brovold and Collin Doyle were perfectly cast, she embracing her overbearing Swedish family’s traditions and he preferring to avoid the whole thing.  They alternated scenes in front of a curtain (outdoors, and talking to an unseen clergyman at premarital counselling) with pulling back the curtain to reveal a living room which was decorated differently every time.  (I was impressed with the running crew!)  The ending was happy without being glib, and felt fair to me.

 

 

The Invention of Romance

Workshop West’s spring production is Conni Massing’s The Invention of Romance, a three-handed story inspired by the playwright’s mother’s late-in-life romance with someone she’d acted in a play with in their youth.

Lora Brovold plays Kathleen (Kate), a jittery anxious museum curator in her “mid 30s”, who starts the story having boyfriend trouble and being fussed about a museum exhibit that she is curating, an exhibit about romance framed around an historical manuscript.  Valerie Ann Pearson plays her mother Louisa, over 70 and I think widowed (or did I just assume that?) with contrasting stillness.  Even when her world gets turned upside down with the possibility of new romance, she isn’t as rattled as her daughter is on a daily basis.

Kate occasionally addresses the audience, or sets up a podium and microphone to speak at a professional meeting.  We see more of her interior life and her professional life than we do of Louisa’s, but the playwright, director (Tracy Carroll), and actors have done a great job of showing that there is more to Louisa’s side of the story that we’re not seeing because Kate isn’t seeing it.  One of my favourite bits was when Louisa was working around to telling her daughter that things have escalated with Cliff, by mentioning the toaster he’d bought her at a auction sale so that she could make two pieces of toast at once, in case she has a guest at breakfast.  Kate of course takes far too long to catch on to what Louisa’s really saying, but the audience completely gets it, especially after Pearson starts rolling her eyes, having lost her initial awkwardness in the conversation in favour of irritation with her self-centred daughter.

The third actor in the play is Mat Busby, credited as Man.  I kept trying to figure out what I’d seen him in before, since he obviously has so many local acting credits that he can’t include all of them in his program bio.  Maybe he was in Die-Nasty last year?  His main role was as James, an awkward cardigan-wearing work collaborator of Kate, but he also played Louisa’s acting colleague in flashback, as well as the various men Kate encounters in her experiments with on-line dating.  We don’t really get to see Cliff, Louisa’s present-day suitor, although we do get a little bit of the humour of an awkward conversation between Kate and her mother’s date in a “talking to invisible man” vignette.

The play evoked thought as well as emotion.  As someone older than Kate and not as old as Louisa, I liked the idea of not being thought past it.  And I liked seeing how Louisa’s anxieties and uncertainties were easier to deal with than Kate’s.  Both of them were appealing characters, but the disagreements and misunderstandings between them were both universally familiar and specific to the characters.  I enjoyed the multiple references to Louisa having consulted with Kate’s older brothers before telling Kate something, and Kate the youngest getting annoyed about that.   I also enjoyed Kate’s line “Is it possible I’m not nearly as mysterious as I thought?” when her mother sees through her.

The simple set was fascinating to look at.  It appeared to be made up completely of IKEA EXPEDIT storage shelves and Staples-brand storage boxes.  The actors would pull props out of boxes or make them into furniture as needed.  And the set made me think about order and tidiness in life and the complications unseen.

The Invention of Romance continues at L’UniThéâtre until Sunday afternoon April 13th (next weekend).  It’s worth seeing.  On-line tickets are here.

The Three Sisters, a play about lacking agency

It can’t count as a spoiler if it’s something that everybody knows, something that’s entered the cultural lexicon.  Godot never comes.  Rosebud is his sled.  And the three sisters don’t get to Moscow.

That’s actually all I knew about Anton Chekov’s famous play The Three Sisters, before attending the Broken Toys Theatre production last night.  They don’t get to Moscow.  Oh, and one of them would be called Masha.

The Broken Toys production was directed by Clinton Carew, and he also did a new translation of the play from the Russian.  Before the show started, Carew came to the front of the stage and told the audience that he would be filling in for an ill cast member until further notice, and he alluded to the broadsheet he was carrying, with Russian headlines, which he would be referring to throughout the show.  (Maybe it had lines or cues on it, but he didn’t actually spell that out.)  I eventually figured out that the ill cast member must be Ken Brown, cast as Chebutykin the old military doctor and friend/tenant of the family.  I also spent the whole evening trying to figure out whether I’d seen Clinton Carew on stage before or whether his voice and movement just reminded me of someone, and this morning a theatre friend has pointed out to me that Carew had played in the Catalyst Theatre production The Soul Collector.

There were many more familiar faces and names on the Varscona stage as well – almost as many as in the cast list for The Christmas Carol (no overlap of course).

Lora Brovold (A Few Good Men, Let the Light of Day Through) was the oldest sister, competent comforting Olga the unmarried teacher.  The middle sister Masha, the discontented married one, was Melissa Thingelstad (An Accident, Kill Me Now).   The bitter sarcastic edge that her paralyzed character showed in An Accident and the impatient strides of the caregiver aunt in Kill Me Now were perfect in Masha, and the scenes in which she is parted from her lover and welcomed back by the husband she doesn’t love are heartbreaking.  The youngest sister Irina, with her enthusiasm for family, her naive ideas about working for a living that are gradually disillusioned as she tries working as a telegraph operator and a township council clerk and then gets a teaching qualification,  and her longing for the Moscow of her childhood, was played by Elena Porter.  I don’t think I’d seen her on stage before but I will definitely watch her again.

I did not quite recognise Jesse Gervais (Let the Light of Day Through) in the bearded off-topic character of Ferapont.  Ryan Parker of the Be-Arthurs was the brother Andrei, the petted only son who fails to live up to his sisters’ ambition for him and their hope to follow him to Moscow, finding himself stuck in marriage to banal social-climber Natasha (Laura Metcalfe), in a job with local government, and in debt due to a gambling problem.  And Michael Peng (The Kite Runner, An Accident) was very strong as Vershinin, the military commander with unhappy homelife, tendency to make philosophical speeches, and passion for Masha.

During the play, various characters sing or hum bits of song, unaccompanied and with about the same attention to rhythm and tune as ordinary people in real life.  This struck me as unusual for the stage, where people don’t usually sing without singing well.   Between acts, the cast members set up new furniture as needed for a bedroom and then the grounds of the house.  Instead of removing the furniture used for previous sets, they piled it all up at the back of the stage, building the impression of the family being less and less settled in the military town and in the family home that Natasha is gradually taking over.  I also really liked the modern language in Carew’s translation, “Weird!” “Well, that happened.” “She has … people skills.” and very occasional profanity.  I thought the play was a lot funnier than Chekov’s Cherry Orchard, which I remember studying in Grade 13, but I can’t tell how much of that was due to the strengths of this production, and how much was just that it went over my head in the  English classroom.

Playing til December 7th, tickets ahead of time at Tix on the Square, same-day tickets at the door.  I really wish that Tix on the Square and their partner companies could do same-day on-line sales the way the Fringe box office and Eventbrite can do.

Blown away by Let the Light of Day Through

Last night I saw Collin Doyle’s play Let the Light of Day Through.

I have a huge backlog of performances I haven’t written about yet, but I couldn’t go to sleep last night until I wrote about this play, and none of my usual correspondents were on line or answering their text messages.

Let the Light of Day Through is a Theatre Network production, starring Lora Brovold and Jesse Gervais, and directed by Bradley Moss.  I didn’t read much about it ahead of time – just took a tip from a reliable friend – so I just had a vague idea that it was about a couple dealing with something sad or unmentionable in their past.

That wasn’t wrong.  And if you’d rather not know any more than the fact that I cried all the way home and am now telling you to go see it, stop here and go to the theatrenetwork website to buy tickets (it’s only playing until Sunday afternoon).

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But if you don’t mind spoilers, or if you have already seen it or you aren’t going to be able to anyway, I can go into more detail.  The show posters show a door opening from a dark hallway into a room flooded with eerie light.  The set visible before the show had a brick wall, a wooden door, and a purplish light escaping from behind it.

I was expecting to meet a couple who were angry with each other, distanced, or with some obvious psychiatric troubles.  Those are the obvious tropes for survivors of family traumas of the kind that is gradually revealed here.  I’ve been fortunate not to have relevant personal experience, but that’s how it usually is in books, movies, or theatre (Next to Normal, for example).  But the characters Rob and Chris in this play still like each other, still find joy in life and hope for their future, and are still very funny people who enjoy each other’s compatible playfulness with the shorthand of people who have known each other a long time.   These two people who have endured an awful senseless loss are the most in-tune with each other, the most respectful of any male-female couple I’ve seen in fiction in ages.  Their tolerance and mild irritation with each other’s quirks are so affectionate at base compared to many fictional couples who are supposed to be happy together but display an ongoing tension that makes me wince.  Maybe I’ve just been watching too much Mad About You on Netflix.

The common fictional trope is that a person or family who experiences unbearable trauma will somehow almost forget the whole thing or make it completely unmentionable.  But it becomes clear that Rob and Chris have done something different in order to get on with their lives.  They’ve made an agreement to pretend, and in fact when they discover that they’ve both forgotten a milestone date, they are at first horrified by the idea that they might ever forget.  This consensual pretending then turns out to be a big part of how they work through their traumatic past and how the audience gets to learn the story as they come to terms with it.  Rather than asking the audience to accept the usual convention of narrative flashback, in which the actors are suddenly playing different characters or playing the usual characters at a younger age, in this play the playwright uses the playful storytelling and reminiscing of the characters as they remain their contemporary selves but re-tell the story to each other.  “Remember that time?  Okay, I’ll be your mother in this one…”  This technique made me more fond of the characters, and it also made the story flow very easy to follow.  In a couple of places where it might have been ambiguous, the characters themselves made the clarification “Wait, is this now, or are we being seventeen?”

The funniest parts of the play were two sex scenes. One is in the contemporary story where they’re obviously both interested in each other and making fun of fantasy conventions but have slightly different expectations for how the scene will play out.  The other is a hilarious acting-out of an awkwardly acrobatic teenage encounter.

The play runs about two hours with no intermission.  This was a good choice because the trajectory of the story didn’t have a good breakpoint.  The set seemed simple but was important, and the lighting made the plain wall and door fit many different settings.   The actors were both very good, playing different people who were both likeable and sympathetic.  And Collin Doyle’s treatment of how these people cope with the events of their lives is just different enough, both in plot and in the way the story is told, that I was completely drawn in.  It didn’t feel melodramatic or emotionally manipulative at all.  Near the end of the play, the only sound I could hear from around me was an awful lot of sniffling. I definitely wasn’t the only one weeping.

One of the best performances I’ve seen since starting this blog.  Seriously.

A Few Good Men

Last weekend I saw Aaron Sorkin’s play A Few Good Men at the Citadel Theatre. Maybe I should have bought a season subscription, but I was more excited about some of the offerings than others, and I couldn’t buy a subscription on line or see the prices by the time I thought about it. So I got one really fabulous seat for the first performance, instead. (Row C, centre).

I never saw the movie, so I didn’t know more than the basics of the story beforehand. I thought it was really good. The thing that impressed me the most was that although everyone was in uniform with the bearing of military personnel and the expressionless faces of enlisted Marines, the actors managed to convey a lot of information about the characters just in small changes in stance or facial movement. And because we knew that they weren’t going to make those things obvious, the audience (or at least me) was working hard at paying attention.

The set was not elaborate but it set the mood and it made it easy to tell which scenes happened in which location. It made use of a rotating thing in the middle of the stage to bring different bits to the front.

The story had a satisfying resolution, but it also brought up a bunch of more complicated questions about right and wrong. And I liked it that the one female character (Lora Brovold), her story didn’t turn into a romance.

Since then, I’ve also watched the 1992 movie, which is full of famous actors. It was good, and very similar, but I actually preferred watching the play. Because instead of letting me find out from scratch who the characters were, it felt like the Jack Nicholson character was just loudly Jack Nicholson, and so on. Again, I was hugely relieved that although the Demi Moore and Tom Cruise characters come to respect each other, they didn’t end up romantically engaged.